Vertigo Reports...

The Norwich Festival of Women Film-makers ran for four days at the beginning of May. In its 13th year, it is based at Cinema City in Norwich and is the only women’s film festival in Britain. Compared to its counterparts in France, germany, Canada, the US and Spain, it is tiny. This year it received a budget of £3,500: £1,000 from Channel 4 and the rest from the Eastern Arts Board.

In spite of the shortage of funds the festival manages to run an interesting programme with an atmosphere of discussion and debate. A day was devoted to documentary with a practical workshop by Dianne Tammes and discussion at screenings led by Jane Mills. Laura Mulvey and Ros Ballaster took part in a debate on Love Crimes by Lizzie Borden. There were screenings of recent features by women including Orlando and Blue Black Permanent, and shorts of student work.

For the first time the festival included the Cinewomen Award sponsored by the Arts Council, with prize money of £1,000 for a short experimental work. The money was shared by Alison Murray for her video Kissy Suzuki Suck and Sophie Outram for Many Scars. Susie Bailey, the festival organiser, hopes to be able to run the award again next year, probably covering another category.

The paltry support this festival attracts is scandalous, but this is symptomatic of more than the philistinism of the Tory government. It also confirms the male domination of all branches of the film industry and the lack of encouragement for women to obtain adequate training and funding in this country.

Four hundred people attended Screenwriting 2000 at the National Film Theatre in London on 8-9 May, a conference organised by the London Screenwriters Workshop, where they heard the question of how film and TV can be opened up to new screenwriters discussed by the likes of Trevor Preston, Alma Cullen, Paula Milne, Steve Gough, Colin Rose (10x10), Mike Sharland, Rene Goddard, Gina Gronk (Central), John Bradshaw, Philip Savile, Colin Welland, Stephen Cleary (British Screen) and others.

Constrained by the recession, the aftermath of the franchises and contracting out, the industry is afraid to take risks. It is frightened to take on new writers or new ideas – even established writers get commissioned and then find that their work is kept on the shelf. There is a lack of good British producers, and too much wheeler-dealing. There ought to be more opportunities for new writers, because there is more TV. But when you succeed as a writer, you are often underpaid and marginalised.

Script editors are often unable to understand what they read, but there are problems with scripts as well. A huge percentage are poor, few have any passion or commitment. Scriptwriting courses have proliferated, but the training which most of them provide is rudimentary. Working with video and using the latest computer technology it is possible to produce inexpensive studio drama. This might be a way forward to allow TV to screen low-budget work and bring a new generation of writers to the screen. A studio drama workshop is planned for the autumn to put this into practice.

Reports on the panel sessions will be published in Screenwriters Bulletin, the magazine of the London Screenwriters Workshop, and tapes of the discussions will be made available. Further details and enquiries about membership to LSW, 84 Wardour Street, London W1V 3LF (tel 071-434 0942).

The 16th conference of INPUT, the International Public Television Screening Conference, was hosted this year in Bristol by a consortium of British broadcasting organisations. INPUT’s founder, Sergio Borelli, formerly of Italy’s RAI, wanted to create a regular international forum to screen and discuss the best of public TV, and provide a meeting place for the furtherance of productions with the highest ethical and aesthetic values. Perhaps its non-commercial objectives are one reason why INPUT has remained relatively low-profile, although this year over 51 countries submitted nearly 500 programmes to be considered for the event, including many newcomers – Albania, Nepal, Singapore, Zimbabwe and Lebanon. There was a strong presence from Eastern Europe but surprising absences too – Turkey, Egypt and the Caribbean, for instance.

The programmes are selected by an international panel and the screenings organised to promote debate on various issues. ‘Do It Yourself’ asked whether handing over the camera to non-professionals reached a deeper, more honest expression of reality. ‘Temptations to Tabloidism’ sought to assess whether in the frenetic competition for audiences and profits, public TV can deal with subjects of a potentially sensational or voyeuristic jind with any greater sensitivity than the commercial media. ‘Laugh Me Tender’ suggested humour was a rare but often more effective way of communicating. ‘Lethal People’ Examined the imaginative treatment of violence in narrative form.

With producers or directors present, there was far too little time for the discussion the screenings provoked. A cause célèbre was ‘Panama Deception’, an independent documentary from America setting the record straight on the invasion of Panama which PBS had refused to screen, which occasioned heated arguments between producer and broadcaster over journalistic practice and unfair discrimination. This controversy usefully exposed the fact that there are widely varying structures governing accountability and outlook behind the operation of different public TV services which do not normally come to light.

Questions of political and cultural differences emerged more sharply in a special panel discussion on ‘Independent Producers and Editorial Control’, here Ralph Arlyck from the US deplored the poverty of slots open to independents in the US in contrast to the ‘luxurious’ option in the UK. Thierry Garble from La Sept/Arte in France described a situation where the functions of production and broadcasting have now been separated, giving rise to triangular relationships between author, producer and broadcaster which when successful could ensure productions of singular artistic quality, although multiple sources of finance were required. But this optimism was not widely shared.

In past years the British have been rare birds at INPUT, but since there was no need to migrate this year, insular predispositions seemed cast aside, if only temporarily, since next year’s conference will be held in Montreal.

Vertigo welcomes…

Connoisseur Video’s launch, in three volumes, of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, a radical and exciting animation compendium whose conception derives from Irene Kotlarz’s programming for the 1987 International Animation Festival at Bristol. Contributors include Dandy Guard, Emily Hubley, Vera Neubauer, Susan Pitt, Christine Roche and Marjut Rimmenen, Alison Snowden and Karen Watson.

AIM – Alliance for Independent Media – established in 1991 ‘to campaign for public support for cultural pluralism in the audiovisual sector, with democratic accountability; to bring together in strategic alliance, groups in the educational and grant aided sectors with producers working for broadcasters who share a commitment to social and cultural pluralism; and to develop proposals for appropriate legislation to resource and support this sector.; They can be contacted at AIM, First Floor, 138 Charles Street, Leicester LE1 1VA (tel 0533-621265).

The Campaign for Local Television, which publishes information and arranges events relating to local TV and the debate on broadcasting. Address: c/o Institute of Local Television, 13 Bellevue Place, Edinburgh EH7 4BS (tel 021-557 8610, fax 031-557 8608)

The Exploding Cinema, a coalition of film/video makers and performers committed to developing new modes of exhibition for underground media. They’ve been holding screenings on alternate Saturdays since 15 May at the Juggler’s Arms, 15 Leather Market Street, London SE1, and can handle 16mm, Super-8, Standard 8, VHS and tape/slide. They’re also looking for performance work and musicians. Call 081-693 5810 for more information, and to show your work.

The first issue of The Black Film Bulletin, a new quarterly of news, interviews, information and analysis edited by June Givanni, assisted by Gaylene Gould. This magazine fills a major gap in media coverage, and is likely to have a world-wide appeal. It is available from: BFI Publications, 29 Rathbone Street, London W1P 1AG.

June has also compiled an updated and revised edition of the ‘Black Film and Video List’, available from the same address (£8.25 inc. p&p).

Complementary to the above and equally exciting is Ecran d’Afrique, a pan-African magazine of the cinema, launched in 1992 by FEPACI (the Pan-African Federation of Cineastes). The publisher is the distinguished Burkinabe director Gaston Kaboré, whose Wend Kuni is due on Channel 4 this summer, the Managing Editor is Nii Kwate Owoo and the Editor-in-Chief Clément Tapsoba. There are editorial offices in Ougadougou and Milan.

In issue three, published earlier this year, the Ghanaian director Kwaw Ansah talks about the positive aspects of the current video ‘explosion’ in Ghana, which sees a new locally produced work coming out each week.

All articles are in both French and English. The magazine’s London Correspondent is June Givanni at the BFI.

It’s also good to note the return, after three years’ silence, of one of the best academic journals, Film History. This is now being published by John Libbey (London) while still edited by Richard Koszarski from the American Museum of the Moving Image (New York). Perhaps regrettably, Vol. 5 No. 1 is the last issue in the old eclectic tradition, as most future issues will be devoted to specific themes. Six have been announced: animation, technology, institutional histories, philosophy of film history, exhibition and exploitation film.

John Libbey also publishes Reseaux, the English edition of the French journal of communication.

Finally, we have received four volumes in the BFI ‘Film Classics’ series: Melvyn Bragg on The Seventh Seal; Sam Rohdie on Rocco and His Brothers, J. Hoberman on 42nd Street and Jonathan Rosenbaum on Greed. Also from the BFI comes Wittgenstein, containing the original script by Terry Eagleton, and Derek Jarman’s adaptation of it.

Vertigo is looking forward to…

The forthcoming issue of The Printer’s Devil, South East Arts’ Magazine of New Writing, which is devoted to the cinema. Available from: SE Arts, 10 Mount Ephraim, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8AS, as is Issue B, which contains screenwriter Terry James’ account of the lure of the movies.

We anticipate that Captured on Film, an international festival of films, videos and events exploring the effect of imprisonment on women, is likely to interest many of our readers. This event at the Commonwealth Institute in London in September (21-24) has been organised by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.